Last year marked both the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the tragic fall of Kabul, Afghanistan; the beginning and end of a 20-year war that will forever define the current generation. We stand here today at an important inflection point as a nation. A generation of men and women who bravely volunteered to protect their beloved nation had a simple expectation that this nation would in turn always protect them. Currently, we are failing these veterans. After 20 years of mental and physical scars, thousands of veterans are forced to travel to other countries to receive life-saving mental health treatments coming in the unexpected form of psychedelics.
Why is this happening? These past 20 years of war have created more than 2.5 million veterans. In this time, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction have remained at record high levels. At least 500,000 veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD during the Global War on Terrorism and at least 10 times as many veterans have taken their own lives than have died in combat. Hundreds of thousands also struggle with major physical ailments, traumatic brain injury and toxic exposure from burn pits. A large percentage struggle to get medical coverage because they cannot prove the issues are connected to their military service. Those who are treated, have become one of the most medicated generations of veterans ever. This is our nation’s report card.
At the same time, our politicians have looked on these issues indifferently while rarely missing the opportunity to publicly claim their support for the troops. The policies that have passed, have been largely ineffective or partial solutions. How we act now is what will truly define us as a nation and will greatly impact future generations of service members.
When properly motivated, we have seen that this nation can solve major problems in unprecedented time. The same should be true with the life-threatening issues affecting the veteran community. Veterans should be priorities, not chess pieces for political maneuverings. In the past few years, new treatment options have emerged from the often-stigmatized source of psychedelics. Psilocybin, MDMA and similar substances have been passing through clinical trials with unprecedented rates of success for treating depression, PTSD and addiction to the point that some have been declared ‘Breakthrough Therapies’ by the Food and Drug Administration.
Psilocybin therapy shows some of the most promise for providing our service members with real relief from trauma and a chance to thrive in their post-military lives, yet little federal funding has gone to support this research.
In this era, supporting our troops requires using the weight of the government to solve the veteran mental health crisis. A logical step towards this would be mandating accelerated funding of research into psychedelics and similar substances. As we move into the election season, no other response should be accepted from our politicians.
In October 2022, the Army Times reported that the Army missed its recruiting goals by 25%, with the other branches similarly struggling. Many pundits have already deflected by saying that this is the result of economic factors or political leanings. For the military, this is the most challenging recruiting year since the start of the all-volunteer force. In other words, this year has been the hardest recruiting year over a period of many economic swings, controversial policies and controlling political parties.
Perhaps there is another reason. Perhaps this is the first time that many are starting to see our military priorities more clearly. Those who are struggling are not helped; those who are allies are left behind; and those who fought are forgotten.
If the federal government cannot live up to its basic promises to the veteran community, then we at least ask that it gets out of our way while we help our veteran brothers and sisters with psychedelic treatments.
So, Mr. President, we ask with sincerity, give us psilocybin.
Jesse Gould is the founder and president of the Heroic Hearts Project, which has spearheaded the research and acceptance of ayahuasca, ibogaine, ketamine and psilocybin therapy programs for military veterans. He served as a sergeant and section leader with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and deployed three times to Afghanistan.